Return To Yggdrasill

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Norway’s Enslaved is clearly out to redefine itself on its newest album, ISA. With a new line-up, a new label and a powerful, striking new record, Enslaved returns to the spotlight, using musical prowess, adventurous spirit and damned fine songwriting skills to direct much deserved attention. Long exploring the byways of Extreme Metal psychedelia across three albums (Mardraum through Below the Lights), the core of Enslaved, Ivar Bjornson and Grutle Kjellson, revisits the past (Vikingligr Veldi and Frost) while having a keen eye on the future. ISA is a monumental album, one which is carved in modern Thrash Metal chops, Black Metal ethos and experimental songcraft. Read on as guitarist and songwriter Ivar Bj�rnson gives insight into the new Enslaved.

How has Enslaved evolved from Below the Lights to ISA? There appears to be new energy in the band.
There was definitely a new energy in the band! After finishing Below the Lights, only me and Grutle remained in the line-up; Dirge Rep and R. Kronheim was out due to our choice to intensify our efforts and work harder. It was a good thing as they left after a serious discussion and not some idiotic quarrel. When I and Grutle saw the result Below the Lights, we knew that Enslaved could survive anything. This was another line-up change at a very difficult point in time, but we came out of it with a great album and a stronger confidence than ever. We could not wait to start working on the next goal; what was to become ISA.

The songwriting is more straightforward, but track to track there’s surprises for those paying attention. In many respects, I see it as a return to the Vikingligr Veldi era with a modern edge.
I could agree with that to some extent. It has some of the same basic rules; each riff/part is given more room to roam and to develop within the mind of the listener. It is not as lengthy as the first mentioned; maybe due to having learned to find the limitations of droning in Enslaved songs? [laughs]

The guitar work especially is vibrant. From the great riff of the title track to the warm, inviting solo at the end of “Bounded by Allegiance.” I think you’ve outdone yourselves on ISA.
Thank you! I am totally into the leads too. My favorite is the leads towards the end of’ ‘Neogenesis’. I am only sorry to say that I am not playing any of the leads; that credit has to go to Arve. Yet I feel that also the rhythm guitar performance is the best I/we have done so far. The sound is powerful and the riffs are really emphasizing the ‘Enslaved sound’.

Is there a concept here? The song transitions starting at “Lunar Force” to “Ascension” are tied together.
There is no concrete concept, like for instance Monumension had. It is more a collection of songs that has the same coloring, the same feeling to them. They are linked somehow to the center of the album; the rune ISA. They all reflect the element of ice, the condition of stillness, the basic and unchangeable structures.

Do you think it’s the material as well as the production? I’ve always felt the production aspect of Enslaved changed the energy of the band record to record. ISA in many respects is open, warm yet very metal; kinda like if Opeth recorded Infernal Overkill.
That’s maybe a bit strong? [laughs] The production fits the music very well this time in my opinion. We wanted the drums to be more distinct, the guitar more massive and the sound in general to be more of an icy wall than before. It is nicely balanced out as there is a lot of energy and fire energy within the material.

I heard there were some stressful times recording ISA. Why was the album so rushed?
It was a nice example of how a small events can affect a larger process in a big way. We had the recording session booked well in advance. The same for the mixing. It was planned to go into mixing a week or so after the recording. So far so good. Then the mixing guy calls and cancels due to double booking or some lame excuse he made up. Luckily, Lars Klokkerhaug from Sub Sonic Studios (Red Harvest, Dark Throne etc.) stepped up and cleared room in his studio for our mixing. Also add a change of plans within several of the distribution offices concerning period of time between finished mastering and release date, and you’ve got quite a rush. Luckily, we work well under pressure, so it all turned out for the best.

I’ve always felt you strayed from the path of making albums. Blodhemn was step back to the savagery of metal, while Beyond the Lights was more elusive and angular. There’s an unexpected element to Enslaved. ISA is a perfect example of that. Care to comment on Enslaved’s album to album mantra?
There is no mantra as such. There is no conscious decision to change in any particular direction or to be clever and chameleon-ish. There are simply the processes of making the songs and shaping them together into albums. Why albums come out the way they do are due to more subtle personal and sometimes subconscious reasons that I guess wouldn�t function too well anymore if they were looked into too closely. Does that make sense? I guess not, but it sure made me feel smart saying it. [laughs]

ISA is an adventurous turn for Enslaved. The vibe I get is that ISA is your concious creative choice to come out from the obscurity that is the metal underground. Was there a decision to bring the band back into the public eye?
Nope, sorry. But you’re not all wrong. There was a conscious effort from my side writing the songs to make the song structures more ‘streamlined’ than what was found on Below the Lights and definitely Monumension. The reason had nothing to do with the public, rather a specific wish from the two vocalists. They wanted more space and room for their vocal arrangements, and I think that trying this out really paid off.

I’ve felt with albums Mardraum through Below the Lights Enslaved tucked itself into the shadows of extreme metal. The albums weren’t traditional metal affairs, even by Enslaved standards. Care to comment?
I think we have developed into a band that is true to our own ambitions and work ethics, not necessarily a particular genre. It has always been within the Extreme Metal boundaries in my opinion, but I dare say that we have contributed to the development of Extreme Metal through straying off into the shadows?

How do those albums fit in the overview of Enslaved’s career? I’ve always felt the EP to Eld was the high point of Enslaved, but ISA changed that. It’s your best album to date.
Wow, I can only say thanks! I think each and every album has its place in our career; they all fill a function so to speak. Even the strangest of them all; Blodhemn, which doesn’t fit in in any logical way (at least in my opinion), has a valuable place in being an absolute breaking point between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ era. Mardraum and Below the Lights are important albums in two ways; they are in my ears discovering new land with the world of Extreme Metal, and secondly they are essential to the development leading to where we are today.

Where does ISA fit into Enslaved’s discography conceptually?
It is a stabilizing album conceptually speaking. Every album since Frost has dealt with change, tearing down structures and fire dynamics. ISA deals with halting, freezing and preserving, and it was a very important counterpart to the albums between ISA and Frost. Conceptually, it can be seen as a later parallel to Frost.

How has the new line-up changed Enslaved’s outlook as a band? The core of Enslaved has always been yourself and Grutle.
Most importantly they have added energy and a renewed focus, which was the lacking ingredients leading to the departures before they joined. The new line-up has been working really hard together, and we seem to agree a lot more on where to go than before. It only proves that Enslaved could survive almost everything as long as the core is intact.

Is the songwriting shared outside the core of yourself and Grutle? How’s the group dynamic different with Arve on second guitar instead of Roy?
Except from Cato adding some input to the arrangements, all the music and most of the lyrics was done by me; while Grutle did two and a half lyrics (we wrote ‘The Return to Yggdrasill’ together). The group dynamics with Arve are a lot smoother, as Arve is more into adding his talent to ‘spice’ what is already there, whereas Roy could sometimes try and use his genius to change Enslaved into more of a Roy enterprise.

Are Arve, Herbrand and Cato bringing a new breath of life into Enslaved?
Oh yes, you got that right. I guess it is evident from my previous answers; They are definitely an integral part in Enslaved being at its best at this point in time.

After the line-up changes on Monumension and Below the Lights, was there a conscious decision to find members who would facilitate the Enslaved vision?
Yep, it was clear that we had to find members that could go that extra mile with us. With Arve we knew he was right for the job, but both Cato (drums) and Herbrand (keyboards, vocals) we had a period where they functioned as session members before we became a steady five-piece.

In many ways ISA is like a new beginning for Enslaved. New line-up, new label and new album. There seems to be more energy on everything that surrounds the album.
Absolutely, in every aspect. Especially being on Tabu Records, with Plastichead doing the states, has been extremely important. Osmose Productions has always fulfilled their obligations and everything, but we haven’t actually worked with a label that believed 100 percent in what Enslaved were doing. To be honest, I think Osmose were hoping for us to move away from the experimental stuff and become a straight forward Viking metal band.

You’ve been recording as Enslaved for many years. Have there been points in the history of the band where you felt like giving up, shelving Enslaved? Interviews over the last few albums had an uncertain air to them.
Really? I know that we had a low point around Blodhemn, which was point of exhaustion before we found a ‘new’ direction; but I think we have had a motivated edge since then. Maybe you’ve mixed up an air of uncertainty with an air of mental illness? [laughs]

Do you feel the perception as a Viking metal band is finally done? In many ways it exists conceptually, but the literal aspect of it is removed from the early days.
Exactly! I think we are a Viking Metal band in essence, but we don’t use the term actively anymore. Extreme Metal more than covers it, I guess. The genre of Viking Metal has become thinned out quite a bit, and as you say. The literal aspect is more or less gone.

It was your most unique identifier when bands around you were black metal in the early ’90s. I think the most important identifier now is the music. It sounds like no one…That’s quite an accomplishment. But you could hear the ambition to be more than a copy of your neighbor as far back as the EP.
Thanks again, man. I think this observation is very true. As we have grown more confident in our core activity; music. I guess the visuals has become more subtle. We want to attract listeners, not sensation seekers.

Does the world outside of Bergen, outside of Norway influence the way you approach music? There’s a lot going on in the world.
I don’t think world events influence our music directly. However, Enslaved’s music is inspired partly by our own lives and thoughts, and I guess these are somehow influenced by what is going on out there.

How have world events shaped Norway? Have they affected your daily life?
I am not to sure about that. I guess our leaders have proved themselves to be without spines once and for all. I doesn’t affect my daily life besides taking away even more faith in various human cultures.

Speaking of going on, there’s rumors of a U.S. tour with labelmates Vreid. What can people expect?
Nothing is settled for the U.S. yet. We have a European/Scandinavian tour scheduled for February/March with Vreid, but nothing for the states yet. Hopefully that will change soon!

You’re touring in support of the release of ISA. What’s it like having more solid label representation in the U.S.? The previous license agreements have more or less put the record out without much commitment in building the band.
It feels great!! As you mention, the situation in the U.S. has been totally necro/crap for us during the period with Osmose Productions. Osmose could not cooperate with anyone over there, but now we are lucky to be handled by Plastichead U.S. The album is not out yet, but already I have a feeling that this will be a lot better than ever before.

Any final comments?
Thanks a lot for the interview and all your extremely great words on ISA. See you on tour over there! Stay in school!



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